Tag Archives: free speech

One State’s Concerted Attack on the First Amendment

New York is one of the most solidly left-wing states. But that doesn’t mean that all of its residents agree with the prevailing progressive ideology—and that dissent disturbs the leadership.

In an attempt to muzzle opposing viewpoints, New York’s elected officials are continuously seeking means to suppress free speech. The latest scandalous move comes from Assemblyman David Weprin, who represents part of NYC in the state legislature. He has introduced legislation (A5323) that is such a broad attack against the First Amendment that it has attracted national attention, garnering substantial criticism.  This is how the Washington Post’s  Eugene Volokh describes the measure:

“…under this bill, newspapers, scholarly works, copies of books on Google Books and Amazon, online encyclopedias (Wikipedia and others) — all would have to be censored whenever a judge and jury found (or the author expected them to find) that the speech was “no longer material to current public debate or discourse”…And of course the bill contains no exception even for material of genuine historical interest; after all, such speech would have to be removed if it was “no longer material to current public debate.” Nor is there an exception for autobiographic material, whether in a book, on a blog or anywhere else. Nor is there an exception for political figures, prominent businesspeople and others.But the deeper problem with the bill is simply that it aims to censor what people say, under a broad, vague test based on what the government thinks the public should or shouldn’t be discussing. It is clearly unconstitutional under current First Amendment law.”

A failure to comply with a request to remove material from articles, search engines or other places would make the author liable for, at a minimum, a penalty of $250 per day plus attorney fees.

Weprin isn’t alone in his antipathy for the First Amendment. New York enacted a measure that requires not-for-profit organizations that discuss public issues to disclose the names of donors who give more than $2,500, a move that violates both the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, as well as a Supreme Court ruling.

New York’s anti-free speech and campaign disclosure laws are stunning in their extent and open defiance of the First Amendment. Among other mandates, they impose a requirement of across the board disclosure of donors and staff, and provides a first-ever disclosure requirement for “political consultants.” At first glance, that appears comparatively innocuous. However, the devil is in the details. According to the legislation’s language, almost anyone who has ever had any relation or association with anyone even remotely connected to a campaign would have to be disclosed. In essence, it criminalizes anyone with an active interest in politics. Further, it substantially intimidates anyone seeking to provide summaries of their perspectives on the issues or advice on how to present those views from speaking with a candidate in any substantive manner. Independent advocacy groups promoting anything from environmental protection to benefits for veterans would be handicapped.

The outrageous assault on free speech has been challenged in federal court. Not backing down, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has hired one of the nation’s top specialist attorney’s in the field to defend the offensive measure.

As previously reported in the New York Analysis of Policy & Government, New York Senator Charles Schumer, who is the U.S. Senate’s minority leader, proposed a measure that would limit free speech protections as they pertain to campaign donations. The proposed legislation, thankfully defeated, gained 43 Senate supporters—all Democrats. At a Senate Rules Committee  Schumer stated that “The First Amendment is sacred, but the First Amendment is not absolute. By making it absolute, you make it less sacred to most Americans.”

Left Uses Violence and Intimidation to Quell Free Speech

President Obama’s attempts to put government monitors in newsrooms were defeated, as was legislation introduced by Senator Schumer (D-NY) to limit the First Amendment.  Now out of office, Progressives continue to seek ways to restrict free speech.  Having lost the ability to do so through government action, they have turned to violence, intimidation, and other forms of pressure.

The violence is evident in the streets, as supporters of President Trump have, to their dismay, frequently found. There have been extensive news reports, including extensive video footage, of left-wing violence in response to Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election and the inauguration of a new president. What has been missing is condemnation of these acts by much of the mainstream media, academia, and progressive politicians.

Intimidation and pressure are evident in many areas, most notably within educational institutions. The Daily Mail  provides an example. Gavin, a 12-year-old 6th grade student in St. Louis, Missouri, was assaulted on a school bus for wearing a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat. The incident was recorded on video. The school response was extremely telling.  Although he was the victim, he was suspended along with his assailants.

A Goldwater Institute study  found that “freedom of speech is dying on our college campuses, and is increasingly imperiled in society at large…Freedom of speech, that cornerstone of our liberty and most fundamental constitutional right, is under siege on America’s college campuses. Speakers who challenge campus orthodoxies are rarely sought out, are disinvited when called, and are shouted down or otherwise disrupted while on campus. Speech codes that substantially limit First Amendment rights are widespread. New devices like ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’ shelter students from the give-and-take of discussion and debate. When protesters disrupt visiting speakers, or break in on meetings to take them over and list demands, administrators look the other way. Students have come to take it for granted they will face no discipline for such disruptions. Administrators themselves often disinvite controversial speakers and limit the exercise of liberty to narrow ‘free speech zones.’ Administrators also focus enforcement on silencing ‘offensive’ speech and give short shrift to due process protections for students accused of saying the wrong thing to the wrong group.

Kate Hopkins, writing for the Daily Mail asks: “Schools are supposed to teach kids how to think for themselves, not what to think. So why are so many liberal teachers bullying and brain-washing children with their own intolerant views?”

Writing for the Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro points out the American left has made political violence its current method of limiting the free speech of those they disagree with the “ New Normal.” Stein writes: “In recent years, under the tender tutelage of the Obama Department of Justice, mass violent action by leftists has become commonplace across the country, from the Occupy Wall Street movement to Black Lives Matter-inspired mob violence in Ferguson and Baltimore, from campus chaos at California State University of Los Angeles to this sort of violence at Trump rallies. The tendency of the media has been, however, to blame the rise of Donald Trump for this violence.”

The Gatestone Institute believes that “Universities and colleges in the United States need to be safe places where students of all backgrounds and beliefs can live and study, free from intimidation by other students, faculty, and administrators. Protests are fine, and they are our right as Americans, but there needs to be zero tolerance for violence and intimidation. If a speaker or group is committing or inciting battery, assault or vandalism, the situation should be a police and judicial matter — as well as valid grounds for mandatory expulsion. There is no place for vigilantism by students, faculty or administers on campus to enforce political conformity. There is no place for any kind of intimidation and violence anywhere in the US. We should never let rioters have a hecklers veto over who gets to speak…The rioters have been doing us a favor by showing their real colors.”

David Harsanyi, writing for The Federalist,  asks, “Why Aren’t We Having a National Conversation About Leftist Violence?… Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t excuse the liberal attacks on speech we saw in California and Chicago, or the illiberal “protests” we’ve seen on college campuses for decades now.  A protest is a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something. What campus lefties engage in are efforts to stop free expression. For that matter, it’s doesn’t excuse the Democratic Party’s constant assaults on the First Amendment. The Left has a free speech problem. When are we going to treat ourselves to a national conversation about the Left’s propensity to undermine free speech? Why aren’t we talking about leftist violence? We treat these events as isolated incidents that have nothing to do with the politics of the contemporary liberalism.”

Progressives Disdain Differing Ideas and Free Speech

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln famously stated that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  In 2016, one side of the political spectrum, the progressive left (which dominates the Democrat Party) has declared a decidedly uncivil war on the majority of the nation’s citizenry.

The most recent incident is Hillary Clinton’s stunning comment that half of rival Donald Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” She went on to claim that those who favor the GOP nominee were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

This was certainly not the first time a leftist candidate has made unfounded, untrue and inappropriate comments about well over half the nation’s voters. In 2011, President Obama, speaking in California, described those who with differed with him as people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

In the 2016 presidential primaries, several progressive groups sought to physically block access to Trump rallies.

The actions of those in positions of legal authority are frightening. Attorney General Loretta Lynch openly speculated about the possibility of prosecuting those who differed with the President Obama’s perspectives on climate change. A number of state attorneys generals engaged in unethical acts of harassment against think tanks that merely produced data and discussion that contradicted the Progressive mantra on climate change.

New York’s Senator Charles Schumer astoundingly introduced legislation to limit the application of the First Amendment in regards to paid political speech.

It’s not just those in politics and government who make such statements. Throughout academia, universities have engaged in numerous efforts to exclude moderate and conservative ideas. Students on one campus who sought to merely handout copies of the U.S. Constitution were told they could only do so in scrupulously restricted spaces. Those who respectfully disagree with professors are threatened with poor grades or worse. The repression is not limited to college. Some high school pupils who engaged in the simplest acts of patriotism, such as wearing T-shirts with American flag or other patriotic or non-leftist partisan symbols have been penalized.

A study in the Washington University Political Review   notes:

“…a controversy erupted at Wesleyan University surrounding the college newspaper, The Argus. Students were in an uproar, demanding that the paper’s funding be retracted. The editors issued an apology on the front page of the next edition, agreeing to many of the protestor’s demands, but that still was not enough for the protesters. Calls for The Argus to lose its funding continued. The newspaper’s crime? Having the temerity to publish an editorial critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. The great conservative intellectual William F. Buckley once said, “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” Any politically active college student should be familiar with this sentiment. Liberals preach inclusivity and diversity of all kinds, but not the diversity of thought.”

The strident demonization of those who do not kowtow to Progressive orthodoxy goes far beyond mere hysterical rhetoric. Not unlike the extreme socialist regimes whose economic systems they prefer, many progressives seek to actively and forcefully silence and criminalize those with different ideas and beliefs. The examples are profound and significant.

Throughout the Obama Administration, numerous attempts have been made to control free speech. His representatives on the Federal Communications Commission sought to embed “monitors” in newsrooms. Reporters who criticize the Administration have been penalized in various ways.

Now, defeated in his domestic attempts to control contrary opinions, the President has engineered the international control of the internet, an end run around the First Amendment. As this article was being prepared, the U.S. Senate was preparing to convene an urgent meeting to block the surrender of internet control. As reported in the Wall Street Journal President Obama wants this to be the last month of an open, uncensored internet guaranteed by the U.S. government. His plan to end American stewardship would hand new power to authoritarian governments offended by the internet as we know it… U.S. protection prevents Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and other authoritarian regimes from meddling. The Obama administration may not be comfortable with American exceptionalism, but the internet fosters free speech and innovation because it was built in the image of the U.S.”

Foreign Censorship Influences U.S. Freedom

It has become disturbingly evident that there is a growing trend against free speech. The increased influence of international norms over U.S. standards bears a significant part of the responsibility, a pattern that will expand significantly when Obama’s move to place the internet under international control becomes complete before he leaves office.

But the President’s inappropriate internet divestment is only part of the problem. The number of excuses used to justify the disregard for America’s greatest achievement—the First Amendment—continues to grow. Political correctness, college “safe spaces,” campaign regulation, and other factors all play a role.

Of extraordinary importance is the desire of major communications companies to appease foreign dictatorships, in order to gain entry into their nations’ marketplace.  Disturbingly, U.S. internet giants have demonstrated their willingness to reject American free speech principles in return for access to foreign markets.

The Bloomberg news service notes that:

“In recent years, founder Mark Zuckerberg has made clear his intention to bring the platform to China. To win favor, much to the amusement of Chinese netizens, he’s handed out copies of  [General Secretary of the Communist Party of China] Xi’s tome, The Governance of China, to Facebook employees; showed off his Mandarin skills; and posted photos of himself jogging through hazardous Beijing smog. It remains to be seen whether that multi-faceted courtship will be effective.”

However, Bloomberg reports that Zennon Kapron, managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Kapronasia, believes that unless China’s censorship rules are incorporated into Facebook’s practices, the company will not succeed in its quest, noting that  “All the kowtowing and meeting the leadership maybe won’t matter so much if Facebook won’t agree to allow some level of censorship, or allow the Chinese government access to data on the site, in exchange for market access,” Bloomberg notes that ‘Linkedin operates in China, but only by agreeing to abide by content restrictions.”

China has moved to reduce its already limited tolerance for any semblance of free speech. The Financial Times notes that   “Since Xi came to power, China’s situation has become more and more worrisome,’ says Murong Xuecun, a prominent author and commentator. ‘Things that we could openly discuss before, such as the Cultural Revolution, are now considered sensitive or even forbidden. In the past there was some room for non-governmental organisations and rights lawyers. Now all of them have been suppressed.’ In an internal document issued just a month after Mr Xi became president in March 2013 and later leaked, the Communist party identified the very notion of civil society as ‘an attempt to dismantle the party’s social foundation…That puts NGOs, journalists, activists, researchers at a much higher risk……China’s internet regulator moved to rein in original reporting by online news portals, in the latest setback for an already tightly muzzled media sector.”

Facebook has been increasingly criticized for its censorship activities, even outside of China. WND  found that “Facebook…temporarily blocked talk-radio host Michael Savage from posting stories to his page after he put up a link to a story about a Muslim migrant killing a pregnant woman in Germany…In December, as WND reported, Facebook removed a post on Savage’s site of photographs of a 2006 protest outside the Embassy of Denmark in London that featured signs warning of beheading and death for ‘those who insult Islam.’ At that time, Facebook also ‘determined that it violated Facebook community standards.”

During the Cold War era, the influence of foreign information served to open up the closed societies behind the Communists’ “Iron Curtain.” Now, however, the reverse is occurring: the censorship proclivities of dictatorships of all kinds, Communist, Moslem extremists, or others, appear to be changing the free-speech culture of the West.

American cultural tolerance for the repression of free speech continues to grow.  There has been little push back against U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s comments regarding criminal prosecution of those that disagree with the White House’s view on man-made climate change, or actions by state attorneys general to engage in legal harassment of think tanks with views counter to that of the President.

The trend is manifest on the streets, as well. The Gateway Pundit recently reported that “A young white man wearing one of Donald Trump’s red ‘Make America Great Again!” hats was violently forced out of New York City’s City Hall Park by a screaming Leftist racist mob of predominantly self-described ‘black and brown’ activists–all while police stood by and did nothing. The mob was gathered to protest police as part of a “#ShutDownCityHallNYC” rally in the park.

Government Resources Hijacked for Partisan Purposes

Recent statements and actions by key elected and appointed officials have highlighted a deeply worrisome trend. Politicized judges, governors, attorneys generals, agency officials and elected office holders have unlawfully hijacked their positions for illicit purposes.

The unprecedented scale, over the past seven and one-half years, of the abuse of public resources and agencies for partisan political purposes is a major threat to the American form of government. The effort has grown thanks in part to the lack of serious criticism by a media that largely agrees with the goals (even if they are uncomfortable about the methods of achieving them) of those who are responsible to these affronts to the Constitution and the very concept of equality under the law.

The resulting size and scope of the disregard, as a result of these actions, for First Amendment rights of speech and assembly is deeply troubling. The Internal Revenue Service harassed nonprofit groups that disagreed with the White House. The Federal Communications Commission sought (unsuccessfully) to place monitors in newsrooms in response to the White House’s anger that talk radio stations were substantially disagreeing with presidential policies, and has attempted to harass a leading news organization that has been highly critical of the Administration. The Federal Election Commission has imposed draconian penalties in response to minor infractions, if the alleged violator is of a party not in power in the White House.

The latest examples come from both elected government as well as the legal system.

The illegal use of the law itself as a partisan weapon was highlighted this year by the attempt of 17 Democrat-led attorneys general, led by New York’s AG Eric Schneiderman, to harass think tanks and research organizations for merely disagreeing with President Obama’s climate change policy. Subpoenas were issued to research and writing organizations such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute for no valid legal reason other than to further the oppression of those who have different views than the White House.

One truly wonders whether these individuals have even a basic comprehension of their role. An attorney general’s job is to enforce the law.  They are neither policy makers nor are they the strong arm enforcers of a politician or a political party. Their actions have led to investigations into their unlawful actions.  Congress is examining the actions of both Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey for what has been described, according to reports in the Washington Times, as their “coordinated efforts to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, scientists and scholars of their First Amendment rights.”

The unlawful assault by Democrat elected officials on those disagreeing with President on climate change has taken to an extremity never before seen in this nation. A proposed legislative bill in California cleared two committees in the state legislature that would have actually criminalized espousing a view that opposed the concept of man-made global warming.

Once considered a paragon of impartiality, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has also succumbed to the epidemic of politicization. The Free Beacon reports that agents involved in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal were required to sign an unusual non-disclosure agreement about their work, a probable forerunner to the startling decision to not indict the Democrat presidential candidate for acts which any other individual, as even FBI Director Jim Comy admits, would have resulted in punishment.

The Congressional affairs newspaper The Hill puts it this way:“Despite clear evidence, which would culminate in an extensive tour at a government facility in Leavenworth, Kan., for you or me, the director of the FBI failed to recommend any form of accountability for Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee; no prosecution, no loss of access to classified material, no loss of future positions of ‘special confidence and trust’ with the U.S. government.”

The abuses of official positions for partisan purposes do not just occur at the national and state levels.  The almost exclusively Democrat New York City Council, reports the NY Post, used taxpayer dollars and city government resources to produce  a “report” that paints a biased, critical picture on the impact  of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s policies on the city.

New York State’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has also come under intense scrutiny , and a complaint has been filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and with state ethics personnel for using his position and taxpayer resources to influence politial races in another state.

Refreshingly, one act, that of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, did uniquely receive widespread condemnation. Justice Ginsberg, (who in 2012 during a speech in Cairo made the stunning statement that if she were drawing up a constitution today, she would not use the U.S. Constitution as an example) openly criticized the Republican presidential candidate, a move which violates the necessity of impartiality on the part of the august body on which she sits.

 

Campaign Regulation used for Partisan and Anti-Free Speech Goals

The trend towards restricting free speech through campaign finance regulations is gaining speed, on both the national and state levels.

The supporters of these anti-First Amendment moves allege that they are seeking to reduce the influence of money in politics.  In reality, their goals fall into two categories:

First, incumbent protection.  By establishing complicated and arcane rules concerning filing reports, with significant penalties for any less than perfect compliance, rather than simple requirements that the names of donors and the amounts provided (filed following the end of a campaign) be provided, they impose significant financial and legal burdens on challengers. Absent the access to professional assistance incumbents possess, citizens seeking to run must spend scarce resources and even more scarce time running a legally hazardous maze of requirements established by and for incumbents.

Second, partisan advantage. The Citizens United  decision held, as summarized by ScotusBlog,  that  “ Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.” Many on the left of the political spectrum believe that this upset advantages they long held, and have sought to enact legislation and regulation to restore that advantage.

There have been measures, some of which have passed and others blocked, that have sought to reduce the effectiveness of the First Amendment in an attempt to regain that advantage.

One extremist measure that failed was a piece of legislation introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to initiate the constitutional amendment process in order to limit the effectiveness of the First Amendment.  The proposed limitation on free speech rights would have excluded paid political speech from constitutional protection.

A radical legislative item has been approved by the New York State Legislature. The measure openly headlines its goal as “Enacting the nation’s strongest protections to combat Citizens United.” Among other mandates, it imposes a requirement of across the board disclosure of donors and staff, and provides a first-ever disclosure requirement for “political consultants.” At first glance, that appears comparatively innocuous. However, the devil is in the details. According to the legislation’s language, almost anyone who has ever had any relation or association with anyone even remotely connected to a campaign would have to be disclosed. In essence, it criminalizes anyone with an active interest in politics. Further, it substantially intimidates anyone seeking to provide summaries of their perspectives on the issues or advice on how to present those views from speaking with a candidate in any substantive manner. Independent advocacy groups promoting anything from environmental protection to benefits for veterans would be handicapped.

The details of the law provide a chilling attack on First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association, in a manner that clearly helps incumbents and handcuffs challengers. Even nonpartisan organizations that openly disagree with particular policies of elected officials would be subjected to onerous reporting requirements merely for stating their beliefs, while incumbents could continue to speak their views unencumbered.

It gets even worse.  Assume you are a motorist who has become tired of replacing tires destroyed by potholes not repaired by the state, and you are angered that your elected official has done nothing to address the problem. You, acting entirely on your own, decide to air your grievance on social media, and perhaps write a few letters to newspapers.  Under the law’s definition, you should have registered as an independent committee, subject to all the red tape and legal requirements that implies. Clearly, that prevents private citizens not wishing to be subjected to penalties from criticizing their errant local official, or even seeking to organize friends and neighbors to protest.

The anti-First Amendment drive involves regulation as well as legislation. The Democrat members of the Federal Election Commission attempted to impose a penalty on one news station that has been uniformly critical of the Obama Administration, based on a complaint from an obscure candidate that he wasn’t invited to a televised debate. Of course, those same commissioners have never considered imposing similar sanctions against the Democrat National Committee, which has inappropriately tilted towards Hillary Clinton in her primary effort against Bernie Sanders. The attempt was blocked by Republican Commissioners.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held, even long before the Citizens United case, that campaign contributions and expenditures are protected by the First Amendment. Legalities aside, common sense in a free nation dictates that public statements made by citizens or organizations disagreeing (or agreeing) with their elected officials is a vital activity in a free nation.

The numerous attempts to use campaign regulation, which should reasonably only consist of open disclosure of all contributions, as a vehicle to immunize incumbents from criticism, and to tilt the balance of power in a partisan manner, is an affront to the entire concept of a free people.

Campaign vs. Free Speech Continues

Democrat members of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) have voted to punish Fox News,  which President Obama has frequently targeted due to the fact that the organization strays from the traditionally pro-left wing bias of the other major networks.  The matter involved the manner in which Fox handled debates. Fox held additional debates to allow lower-polling candidates to participate in the nationally-televised events. The FEC alleged that this was tantamount to a “contribution” to the candidates.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Republican FEC commissioner Lee E. Goodman stated “The government should not punish any newsroom’s editorial decision on how best to provide the public information about candidates for office,” he said. “All press organizations should be concerned when the government asserts regulatory authority to punish and censor news coverage.”

The hypocrisy of the Democrat commissioners is evident in the fact that they acted against a move to expand fair coverage of a broad range of candidates while ignoring acts by the DNC to tilt the primary process in favor of one candidate, Hillary Clinton, in a manner that substantially disadvantaged rival Bernie Sanders. An Observer review of the matter noted “The Democratic National Committee rigged the Democratic primaries to ensure Hillary Clinton would win the presidential nomination. Evidence suggesting this claim is overwhelming, and as the primaries progress, the DNC’s collusion with the Clinton campaign has become more apparent.” Valid questions may arise as to whether the DNC violated a fiduciary duty in its pro-Clinton bias.

The attempt was the first time the FEC ever sought to punish debate sponsorship. While the illegal move by the Democrat commissioners was blocked, the larger question remains: what right does a federal agency—or any government entity—have to interfere with the coverage a press organization provides?

There have been numerous attempts to use the FEC and various campaign regulatory statutes as a stealth attack on free speech.  Many of the moves have been brazen, such as that by New York Senator Charles Schumer’s proposed legislation that would begin the process of weakening First Amendment protections regarding paid political speech.  Democrat members of the FEC have also sought to bring certain web sites under its jurisdiction.

Democrats, who formerly held a broad advantage in campaign finance by their close association to union leadership, have furiously sought to regain that advantage after the playing field was levelled in the wake of the Citizens United decision, which ruled that political spending is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Throughout President Obama’s tenure in office, significant attempts have been made to attack free speech:

  • His commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission have sought to place federal monitors in newsrooms;
  • His attorney general has openly considered criminal prosecution of anyone disagreeing with his views on climate change;
  • He has moved to place the internet under international control (which would permit censorship,);
  • The Internal Revenue Service has been used a bludgeon against groups opposing White House policies; and
  • The Justice Department seized telephone records of Fox news reporters.

In 2014, the Society of Professional Journalists  protested in a letter to the White House about “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level. Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely. When public affairs officers speak, even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially in spite of having the title “spokesperson.” Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis. In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote.”

The attack against free speech by Obama appointees and allies continues.

The latest assault, reported first by Bill McMorris in the Washington Free Beacon, comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, which attempted to implement a new policy that would compel companies to disclose any advice they seek during union elections. Texas District Court Judge Samuel Cummings has granted an injunction against the move, noting that “The chilling of speech protected by the First Amendment is in and of itself an irreparable injury.”

49% of U.S. Universities Censor Students

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has found that 49.3% of the 440 universities it surveyed maintain severely restrictive speech codes, policies that clearly and substantially prohibit protected speech. The only good news for First Amendment advocates is that the number of colleges doing so has been steadily declining.

According to FIRE, “Despite the critical importance of free speech on campus, too many universities—in policy and in practice—censor and punish students’ and faculty members’ speech and expressive activity. One way that universities do this is through the use of speech codes—policies prohibiting speech that, outside the bounds of campus, would be protected by the First Amendment.”

The CATO organization  believes the problem can be traced to the “massive expansion of the bureaucratic class at universities, which officially began outnumbering the number of full-time instructors in 2005, and the rise of the ‘risk management’ industry, which makes a fortune teaching universities how to avoid lawsuits by regulating almost every aspect of student life.” The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is the federal agency, according to CATO, that has instituted a “hair trigger” that chills speech.

According to CATO, “By the late 1980s, colleges were adopting “anti-harassment” codes that restricted protected speech. In the mid-1990s, the campus speech code phenomenon converged with the expansion of federal anti-discrimination law by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. OCR encouraged and even required harassment codes, and although its guidance tried to ‘balance’ the need for these codes with the First Amendment, by the time FIRE was founded in 1999, universities were using the “federal government made me do it” excuse to justify even the most laughably unconstitutional speech codes.”

In reaction to the officially sanctioned repression of free speech, students have turned both to petitions and law suites.

Students at Dartmouth University have placed a petition on the Change.org  website.  The key portion of the petition reads:

“We, the undersigned, feel that it is our duty to address certain issues that threaten the current and future well-being of Dartmouth College…the Dartmouth administration has spent its time policing student life. Buoyed by the idea that the College should support exclusionary ‘safe spaces’ that act as a barrier against uncomfortable ideas, administrators have assumed the role of paternalistic babysitters. By effectively taking sides in sensitive debates and privileging the perspectives of certain students over other…administrators have crossed the line between maintaining a learning environment that is open to all and forcing their own personal views onto the entire campus. In doing so, they have undermined the value of civility, harmed the free exchange of ideas, and performed a disservice to those students who see their time in college as preparation for success in the real world…The Greek system, which has historically provided students with a social arena relatively free from the control of administrators, has been subjected to increasingly strict administrative control as well…We believe that the administration should treat students like the legal adults they are and cease chipping away at free speech, free thought, and free association…”

The most recent lawsuit was filed by the Alliance Defendng Freedom (ADF) on May 19, on behalf of Young America’s Foundation, California State University-Los Angeles Young Americans for Freedom, columnist Ben Shapiro, and a CSU-LA student, challenging what they perceive to be the unconstitutional policies and practices of the university.

According to ADF, “Shapiro was scheduled to give a presentation entitled ‘When Diversity Becomes a Problem’ at CSU-LA on Feb. 25, as part of a free speech event organized by YAF. University officials first attempted to shut down the event. When those efforts failed, professors helped incite a mob of protestors to block entry to the venue… [they] flooded the university’s Student Union and physically blocked access to the theater where Shapiro was scheduled to speak… CSU-LA unilaterally decided what ideas are permissible, in a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, and even allowed an aggressive mob to menace free speech supporters,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. ‘The defendants’ actions violated numerous university policies, as well as state and local laws. By blocking access to the event, the protestors created a serious safety hazard and denied our clients’ fundamental rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection of law.”

ADF filed the lawsuit, Young America’s Foundation v. Covino, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Facebook Accused of Biased News Coverage

On May 4, the New York Analysis of Policy and Government questioned whether popular social media sites tilted their news coverage in favor of left wing points of view. We worried that attempts to expand into the lucrative Chinese market, for example, by Facebook would enhance that problem.

On May 10, U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, asked Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer questions following reports that company employees actively suppressed news stories on topics of interest to politically conservative users of the social media platform.

A statement by the Committee noted:

“Facebook must answer these serious allegations and hold those responsible to account if there has been political bias in the dissemination of trending news,’ said Thune on sending the letter. ‘Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open Internet.’

“On May 9, a story in Gizmodo reported allegations by several former unnamed Facebook employees that the company routinely worked to suppress conservative viewpoints on the social network and artificially highlighted other news stories even when objective metrics did not indicate they were ‘trending.”

Thune’s letter asks Zuckerberg to provide answers to the following questions no later than May 24:

“1)    Please describe Facebook’s organizational structure for the Trending Topics feature, and the steps for determining included topics.  Who is ultimately responsible for approving its content?

2)    Have Facebook news curators in fact manipulated the content of the Trending Topics section, either by targeting news stories related to conservative views for exclusion or by injecting non-trending content?

3)    What steps is Facebook taking to investigate claims of politically motivated manipulation of news stories in the Trending Topics section?  If such claims are substantiated, what steps will Facebook take to hold the responsible individuals accountable?

4)    In a statement responding to the allegations, Facebook has claimed to have “rigorous guidelines in place for the review team” to prevent “the suppression of political perspectives” or the “prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another.”

a.    When did Facebook first introduce these guidelines?

  1.  Please provide a copy of these guidelines, as well as any changes or amendments since January 2014.
  2.  Does Facebook provide training for its employees related to these guidelines?  If so, describe what the training consists of, as well as its frequency.
  3.  How does Facebook determine compliance with these guidelines?  Does it conduct audits?  If so, how often? What steps are taken when a violation occurs?

    5)    Does Facebook maintain a record of curators’ decisions to inject a story into the Trending Topics section or target a story for removal?  If such a record is not maintained, can such decisions be reconstructed or determined based on an analysis of the Trending Topics product?

    a.    If so, how many stories have curators excluded that represented conservative viewpoints or topics of interest to conservatives?  How many stories did curators inject that were not, in fact, trending?

  4.  Please provide a list of all news stories removed from or injected into the Trending Topics section since January 2014.

The Senate Commerce Committee exercises legislative and oversight jurisdiction over issues related to Internet communications, consumer protection, and media issues.”

In his letter to Zuckerberg, Senator Thune stated “Social networks such as Facebook are an increasingly important source of news for many Americans and people around the world.  The ability to connect with others to discuss and debate the issues of the day that such services offer has created a powerful platform for civic engagement.  Indeed, with over a billion daily active users on average, Facebook has enormous influence on users’ perceptions of current events, including political perspectives. If Facebook presents its Trending Topics section as the result of a neutral, objective algorithm, but it is in fact subjective and filtered to support or suppress particular political viewpoints, Facebook’s assertion that it maintains a ‘platform for people and perspectives from s the political spectrum’ misleads the public.”

That, of course, is the central issue.  Facebook, as an independent company not run by government, is free to present whatever viewpoint it so chooses, and should be able to do so without restriction.  However, if it solicits participation from the public based in part upon assertions that it provides nonbiased coverage of the news, then it has intentionally misled those who utilize the service.

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government is highly critical of attempts to rein in free speech in the political or any other arena. However, we find it deeply hypocritical that leftist/progressive activists continue to criticize expressions of centrist and conservative thought and seek to regulate it through campaign finance restrictions, in addition to the various attempts by the Obama Administration to oversee media activities. Meanwhile, actions such as that Facebook is accused of and which many other outlets in print and television media engage in which are clearly biased towards the left end of the spectrum go un-criticized.

Free Press: An Endangered Species?

Freedom of the press is increasingly endangered throughout the globe.

The existence of unbridled journalism is vital to the entire concept of democracy. It is essential for providing a forum in which all problems facing a government can be resolved by a thorough airing of all facts and solutions, and to attack instances of corruption and power grabbing.

Unfortunately, the concept of free speech is taking a worldwide beating. Outright censorship by totalitarian governments, management of media outlets that seek to slant the news towards a particular point of view, and the growing trend towards labelling open discussions as “offensive” and then banning them, combine to make an objective and independent press an endangered species.

Reporters Without Borders has released its 2016 “World Press Freedom Index,” and the news is distressing. According to the organization, “Most of the movement … is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests. The…Index reflects the intensity of the attacks on journalistic freedom and independence by governments, ideologies and private-sector interests during the past year.”

According to the group’s Secretary General Christophe Deloire, “The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately-owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests. Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests. Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved.”

All of the Index’s indicators revealed a decline in press freedom over the past several years. The problems are not confined to just censoring individual news stories. The very infrastructure of journalism is under assault, as well. The study notes that “Some governments do not hesitate to suspend access to the Internet or even to destroy the premises, broadcast equipment or printing presses of media outlets they dislike. The infrastructure indicator fell 16% from 2013 to 2016.”

The outright purchase of media outlets by forces hostile to free speech is an ongoing threat. Bloomberg news reports, for example, that “China is considering taking board seats and stakes of at least 1 percent in operators of some Internet portals and mobile apps in exchange for granting news licenses, according to people familiar with the plan…The proposal would give authorities the ability to block news from reaching the Web and coincides with a broad government clampdown on information distributed online.”

In addition to government censorship and biased media management, pressure from aggressive pressure groups have damaged free speech. For quite some time, the threats from Islamic extremists has produced a chill, particularly in Europe and the middle east, on the need for a frank discussion of the key issues of terrorism, maltreatment of females, political corruption under the guise of religious leadership, and other related issues. Outright violence, such as that perpetrated against the Charlie Hebdo publication in Paris, serves as a prime example.

Reporters Without Borders notes that “The “media environment and self-censorship” indicator has deteriorated by more than 10% from 2013 to 2016.”

Even before the latest Index was published, there were an increasing number of complaints within the United States, for example, that social media outlets have acted prejudicially against individuals expressing viewpoints contrary to the prevailing Progressive orthodoxy, a trend clearly visible on college campuses. The Internet, the New York Analysis of Policy and Government believes, may be the media most at risk. The bizarre plan of the Obama Administration to surrender control of the internet to an international body composed of many members that practice censorship, scheduled to take place by November, does not bode well for the future.

Nor does the growing quest for expanding operations in China by private social media moguls. Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with China’s propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, who praised the facebook founder’s “cooperative” attitude should raise serious alarm bells.

No nation has ever enacted free speech protection as substantial as America’s Constitutional First Amendment guarantee. But for the first time, that absolute right is being substantially assaulted. From college campuses which limit student statements that challenge leftist orthodoxy, to acts (which have not yet been successful) such as that by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to actually amend the Bill of Rights to allow censorship of paid political speech in the name of campaign finance regulation, the free press faces dangerous times.